November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, respectively—are among the most important days of the year. The days are in celebration and commemoration not only of those who are already in Heaven, but also all the faithful departed still in Purgatory.
Here’s how these two days are celebrated in eleven places around the world!
A strong Catholic culture distinguishes All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in Poland. Also, during this pre-winter season, temperatures already see themselves at the one-digit range. So, combining both, Poland’s Novembers 1 and 2 offer people a spectacular sight to behold, coupled with the chilly feeling of the cold temperatures.
Locally well-known as Undas, November 1 and 2 see relatives who live afar visit home, a testimony of the closeness of Filipino families. Crowds of people visit cemeteries, dozens of Masses offered for the souls of the faithful departed, and food served! (Though this year, amid the pandemic, this tradition has been temporarily altered to accommodate COVID-19 safety and health protocols.)
The Philippines (Chinese-Filipino culture)
Though not really important days in mainland China, Chinese-Filipinos have already adapted Novembers 1 and 2 in their yearly calendar. One certain church in Manila, dedicated to the pastoral care of Chinese-Filipino Catholics, encourages people to offer incense solely in honor of their beloved dead.
In the US, and in many other places as well, children dress up as saints during All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween), in anticipation of All Saints’ Day. Parish churches have this activity as a way of allowing children to get to know the lives of the saints in a creative way, and these costumes never cease to impress!
In certain places in the UK, delicacies called soul cakes may still be seen. They’ve been around even before the Reformation era, the 1500s. Soul cakes actually play a very important role; they’re part of the origins of trick-or-treating. Back then, many centuries ago, children would visit rich peoples’ houses and ask for treats. In exchange, the children would pray for the faithful departed of the owners of the house.
Unique from other countries, the Central American country of Guatemala holds a Kite Festival on November 1. Used as a symbol to connect with the dead, these (very) large bamboo and rice paper-made kites soar the highest of skies in a spectacular and colorful display every year.
In Belgium, another country with a strong Catholic influence, the living visit the faithful departed during All Saints’ Day (All Souls’ Day isn’t a public holiday). There, they lay white chrysanthemum flowers on their tombs in a picturesque scene.
In the European country of Malta, All Souls’ Day is known as Jum il-Mejtin. The Maltese people have this pastry called l-ghadam tal-mejtin, a bone-shaped bread that’s only available in November. It’s sweet, delicious, and covered in icing!
Day of the Dead is also very much observed in Mexico. There they dress up in colorful costumes and skulls; the skulls serve as a powerful reminder that one has to memento mori, remember his or her own death and mortality.
A local All Saints’ Day tradition in Portugal is the Pão-por-Deus or Bread for God practice. Celebrated by children, it works the same way as trick-or-treating; children go around and ask for sweets and other eatables—chestnuts, broas, fruits, bread, among others. In Portugal, though, costumes don’t take center stage as in the West!
Italy and the Vatican
In Sicily, somewhat like in Christmas, toys and gifts are left for children who remember their deceased loved ones on November 2. For Pope Francis, on the other hand, it’s been customary to offer Mass at a cemetery in Rome and another at the Vatican for the cardinals and bishops who’ve died the past year.
However diverse these cultures may seem, one thing unites them all: their dedication, celebration, and commemoration of the good and the blessed!
The author of this article:
An accomplished young Chinese Filipino writer and media personality, Aaron S. Medina is associated with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program, the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, and CHiNOY TV. He has a passion for truth, justice, and Pokémon, too! Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aaron.joseph.s.medina/